In 2002, I wrote an email criticizing Taking Children Seriously (TCS) regarding self-sacrifice. This was around 7 months after I found TCS. No one defended TCS. Already, by that date, TCS’s founders, Sarah and DD, were largely unwilling to respond to public debate and criticism about TCS.
I received only one reply. It was from a TCS beginner who wrote 7 posts total. They didn’t defend TCS. They claimed that no one ever does pure self-sacrifice because whenever someone acts they are choosing that action on purpose which shows they like something about it. For example, if a parent “sacrifices” and feels “resentment, self-pity, and other negative feelings” but feels justified in having those feelings, then that’s an emotional reward that they’re gaining.
Aside: That was their second to last TCS post. Their last post was favorable towards breastfeeding a toddler with both the mother and toddler naked, with the toddler erect and masturbating, and with the toddler having verbally requested that the mother be naked. Another poster in the same thread brought up breastfeeding children having “unlimited freedom to explore their mother’s bodies”. I don’t understand why, but Sarah and David Deutsch had repeatedly encouraged and defended those kinds of ideas, and were good at attracting members with those sorts of interests and views. These 2002 posts did not receive criticism. I think there was a significant flaw in TCS in this area.
Back to self-sacrifice: I’m happy with how well my criticism holds up given how early on I wrote it (though I dislike some of the writing style). It’s nice to see that I wasn’t just accepting whatever TCS/DD/Sarah said. I think I was basically right: self-sacrifice is bad and should never be done on purpose. I remember later arguing that you can never know when it’s time to give up on problem solving – either you’ve already failed, or you haven’t failed yet and shouldn’t give up in advance. You can’t know in advance that you will fail at problem solving. You can know in advance that a particular category of solution isn’t going to work out (b/c e.g. it requires ordering a part that takes a week to arrive, but you only have a day left). But even at the last second you could change your mindset to be OK with a doing the best thing available under the circumstances, so last second solutions are always available to try for. This relates to the method I developed involving backing off to less ambitious goals when stuck and saying things like “Given X and Y, what should we do?” (That’s what you consider if you’re stuck on X and Y. Just treat them as givens, as part of circumstances, and consider what to do in that situation. Like X could be that you and another person disagree about an issue, so the question becomes what to do given that unresolved disagreement. Resolving the disagreement is not the only way to find a common preference.)
I think it was really bad that TCS intentionally advocating self sacrifice. I think it shows that Sarah and David Deutsch were not as intellectual or principled as they thought.
Overall, I think TCS had good and bad ideas mixed together. It has some important knowledge but also some really bad ideas. Because some of the ideas are both unconventional and unrealistic, it can be dangerous if you don’t know a ton of philosophy – which virtually no one does. Although David Deutsch thought social services were not a meaningful danger, that was naivety or wishful thinking, and you actually could get your children taken away if you attempt TCS and then are honest about it with the government as Deutsch advised.
(Deutsch went so far as to praise a mother for showing naked sexual education videos – that most people would see as pornographic, not child-friendly – to not only her own ~10 year old child but also her child’s friend (who had conservative Christian parents), and telling the other child to lie to her parents about it. The parent had common sense doubts but felt pressured by TCS to share graphic sexual information with children, and Deutsch told her basically that her only error was the doubts, and that she was acting courageously and responsibly. It’s a good example of how TCS sometimes coercively bullied people to go against their reasonable, traditional, conventional, common-sense knowledge without adequately persuading them of alternative views. Deutsch further said that if social services should ever inquire about the matter, tell them the truth. He thought if the parent presented their actions as good feminism, they could get the government agents on their side. Listening to advice like that is seriously dangerous.)